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What type of strategic planning do you need?

By Ruth Tearle

You need to plan a strategic planning workshop. You've studied all the strategy models, approaches and processes. But now you are faced with a specific situation. How do you choose the right approach?

Powerful strategic planning workshops are designed to achieve specific objectives.

Which strategic planning tools or analyses should you choose? How do you know what will work in what situation? From all the millions of strategy templates, models and approaches, how do you choose something practical? Something that will work in your own organization, bearing in mind the politics in your executive team, and the specific challenges your leaders are grappling with.

The starting point - Define your workshop objectives.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
Lewis Carrol

The starting point is to be clear about the objectives of your strategic planning workshop.

These objectives may be based on the strategic issues you need to resolve, what you and your team want to achieve from your workshop, and the political and interpersonal challenges the facilitator may have to deal with from people attending the workshop.

It is important that both the CEO or leader and the facilitator have a common view of what they are trying to achieve, before the workshop dates are set, delegates are invited, or the venue is booked. Because the workshop objectives you choose will affect :

  • The timing of the workshop.
  • The type of workshop environment or venue layout you need.
  • How delegates get invited.
  • The content and process you work through during the workshop.

This article shows the most common workshop objectives, and the appropriate strategic planning activities and workshop processes you can use to achieve these objectives.

1. Develop a comprehensive common strategic plan.

You need to build a comprehensive decision making framework that :


• Provides a common clear direction. Ensures everyone is pulling in the same direction.

  • Your leadership team can use to guide their decisions.
  • Guides your budgeting, goal setting and performance management processes.
  • Allows every individual in the organization to see how the work they do contributes to the organization's future.
  • Helps the team to make tough strategic decisions they have been grappling with for a while. Decisions that can’t be answered easily without conflict.

Appropriate strategic planning activities include:

Holding a 3 day participative workshop for the leadership team during which they analyze and work through the following activities.


Complex problems require complex thinking.

This often takes the form of a step by step strategic planning process.

  • Paradigm analysis.
  • Stakeholder analysis.
  • Trend analysis.
  • Opportunities & Threats.
  • Scenario development.
  • Future key success factors.
  • Competitor analysis.
  • Internal analysis.

Strategic choices:

  • Unique mix of strengths or core competencies.
  • Future competitive advantage.
  • Detailed vision showing what must be in place to support the future competitive advantage.
  • What will be communicated to whom, after the strategy workshop.

Appropriate workshop processes include:

  • A carefully designed step-by-step workshop process. One that encourages equal participation from every delegate.
  • Careful management of discussions and group dynamics to ensure that strategic decisions are based on what is in the best interests of the organization rather than what those with the most political power insist on.
  • Careful selection of delegates attending the workshop.
  • Briefing of delegates before the workshop to shape their expectations about what they can expect from the workshop, and what is expected of them.
  • Building a common understanding that strategic thinking does not involve ‘quick fixes’ and ‘instant solutions.’
  • Multi-disciplinary teams during the workshop.

2. Help a team to create new opportunities.

Find creative ways to achieve a difficult target.

You need to get a group of people to achieve a difficult target. For this they need to get creative about identifying new markets, or new products, services, and features to offer to their existing markets.

Appropriate strategic planning activities include:

  • Paradigm busting exercises.
  • Trends & Opportunities
  • Strengths & opportunities.
  • Future scenarios & opportunities.
  • Future competitive advantage.

Appropriate workshop processes include:

  • Create a workshop environment that encourages creativity.
  • Provide new information/research to the group to stimulate learning and creativity. For example, give them the latest strategic trends research. Get them to brainstorm new opportunities from political, social, economic, technological and business trends.
  • Use small groups. Create competition between groups with rewards for creative ideas.
  • Get as much diversity as possible in your groups. Mix groups so that people from different functions, backgrounds, races, genders, religions and hierarchical levels work together in small groups.

3. Get a team to support a strategic plan.

To get a group to buy-in and commit to a strategic plan that has already been developed.

A leader or CEO has already developed a strategic plan. He/she is having trouble getting his team to:

  • Understand the strategy.
  • Flesh it out.
  • Get excited about the new strategy and how they can contribute.
  • Understand the paradigm shift that will be required of them, to achieve the strategy.
  • Create a bridge that will take them from where they are, to where they need to be - in order to implement the strategy successfully.

Appropriate workshop activities include:implement strategy

  • Leader presents the strategy.
  • Group discuss their impressions of the strategy.
  • Develop a picture of what their organization and their team will look like, if the strategy is implemented successfully.
  • Identify key projects that will take them towards their vision.
  • Use systems thinking to get a clear picture of the organization today as a system, and what it will need to be like in the future as a system, if they are to achieve their strategy. Use a tool like the Change Puzzle Kit to encourage detailed systems thinking.
  • Identify core changes that will need to be made to implement the strategy successfully. Develop a change or implementation plan.

Appropriate workshop processes include:

  • A highly participative workshop environment.
  • Small group work.
  • Get as much diversity as possible in your groups. Mix groups so that people from different functions, backgrounds, races, genders, religions and hierarchical levels work together in small groups when doing systems thinking.

4. Get divisions to align to a corporate strategic plan.

To get a division to align to the corporate strategic plan.

A divisional head needs to align his division (which comprises different departments) to the new corporate strategic plan. He needs to get his team to:

  • Understand what the organization or business expects from the division.
  • To get a common view of where the division as a whole is heading. What it will look like in the future.
  • Understand what will need to be in place within the division in order to achieve that picture or vision.
  • align
  • Identify the 20% of activities they need to focus on as a team during the next few months.

Appropriate workshop activities include:

  • CEO's presentation of the corporate strategy and the role the division could play in supporting it.
  • Groups impression of the strategy. What they like. What concerns them.
  • Group develops a clear picture of the organization today.
  • Group develops a clear picture of what their division would be like if they were playing the role the CEO expects of them, and contribute effectively to the corporate strategy.
  • Group identifies what would need to be in place to support that role.
  • Group identifies the 20% of activities they need to focus on in the next 6 months to take them a step towards their divisional vision.
  • Each area/department identifies their contribution to the divisional vision.
  • Each area/department develops specific goals and actions for their area.

Appropriate workshop processes include:

  • Small group work.
  • Getting as much diversity as possible in your groups. Mixing people from different departments in small groups. Invite a few 'customers' of your department to the workshop.
  • Working in natural work teams when individual departments set goals and action plans for their own areas.

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